Reader Question: This Old House

May 7, 2008 by
Filed under: Greenpoint Magic 

Erin of Norman Avenue writes:

Hi Miss Heather,

I suspect you’ve already researched this – but what’s the story with the spectacular, run-down “estate” at the very end of Guernsey Street? It looks like it used to be an asylum or an old folks home, but now it appears to be inhabited by squatters and the grounds are overgrown.

I have been long remiss writing posts about Greenpoint history and I really appreciate Erin of Norman Avenue‘s kindly kicking my butt.

This beautiful (if slightly decrepit) building was the bequest of Samuel J. Tilden. If the name Sam Tilden sounds familiar to you, it’s because he was the 25th governor of New York and ran for president as a Democrat against Rutherford B. Hayes. He lost under very fishy circumstances. And for the record, Florida was a factor. Sound familiar?

In any case at Tilden’s death he had $6,000,000 of assets. His relatives contested the will and got a nice chunk of his estate. Somehow this parcel, by virtue of its less than desirable location (or sheer luck) didn’t find its way into their hands. Per his wishes a home for the aged was built here. It is now SRO. Here’s a little nugget of goodness about this great old building from the August 20, 1886 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Enjoy!

When the people rise the system gets cleansed.

— Samuel J. Tilden

Miss Heather

P.S.: I know for a fact a woman on Green Street will be one summer short of a century this month!

And no, it ain’t me!

UPDATE: Check out this way cool message I got from the proprietress of!

I have a google alert on Samuel Tilden and your delightful BLOG came up this morning…This was one property I did not know about and was happy to read that Samuel donated the old house and that it still exists.


5 Comments on Reader Question: This Old House

  1. tarynitup on Wed, 7th May 2008 2:38 pm
  2. I purposely ride my bike down this street just so I can look at this house. I’ve always been intrigued by it and wondered who lived there or what the deal was with that place. I also wondered if there were cheap rooms for rent. Ha. Guess not. Thanks for posting! BTW, I’m addicted to your blog.

  3. lylet on Thu, 8th May 2008 7:08 pm
  4. I actually looked into buying this house about a year and a half ago – to restore (not as an SRO, but to be owner occupied in some form or another – make all the gentrification comments you want)

    The agent wouldn’t let us even look in the house because apparently the tenants were not thrilled that their home was being sold and had heckled a number of previous viewers.

    It’s no longer listed for sale and I haven’t checked on propertyshark for a while but WOW what a home that would have been. And now the Tilden thing makes it even more interesting…IMHO one of the best pieces of property in Greenpoint. Apparently the same architect designed that facade as the church just west of Manhattan (can’t remember which street at the moment, but it has a similar brick italianate facade)…

  5. missheather on Fri, 9th May 2008 1:22 am
  6. lylet: Fascinating story— and I really appreciate that you saw fit to share it.

    For the record, Tilden had a number of holdings in Greenpoint. I cannot recall what they are but if my (admittedly faulty at times) memory serves me right, there were quite a few.

  7. d on Fri, 16th May 2008 12:01 am
  8. i live on oak street, i love this house and pass it several times a day.

  9. neighborhood threat on Fri, 16th May 2008 9:54 am
  10. lylet: i don’t think i’m speaking for everyone, but i would be speaking for at least a few greenpoint residents when i say that we would love for someone to buy it and restore it. the people i had heard were looking at it wanted to knock it down and use its FAR but there is an issue with that due to the historical nature of the building. i believe, and i could be wrong, that the owners also thought they had a goldmine because of the large footprint of the lot and the FAR, but then they realized there were constraints. it is also officially in the greenpoint historic district (yes, there is one) so there are other constraints because of that.

    i would love someone to buy it and restore it and live in it. that’s the kind of gentrification i don’t mind. better than someone knocking it down and putting a piece of feddertecture in its place.

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